Drones Over Dakota

Science, technology, and life.
Dec. 9 2008 8:47 AM

Drones Over Dakota

Good news for U.S. national security! We're finally flying surveillance drones over the treacherous border ... between us and Canada.

You're kidding me, right? William Arkin and Peter Feaver of the Washington Post have the same question I do: Why are we posting drones in North Dakota when we need them in Pakistan?

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

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This weekend's national coverage of the first drone's arrival (courtesy of the AP and NYT ) didn't really explain. So I moseyed over to the Grand Forks Herald (before I saw the same link at Danger Room , I swear) to see what I could find.

Answer: Pork. Here's the Herald :

At 2:28 p.m. Saturday, the unmanned aircraft touched down at the Grand Forks Air Force Base ... The Saturday landing's significance is about the new mission of the base, which has lost planes and people in large numbers in recent years. The Unmanned Aircraft System mission allows the base to continue, although in a reduced capacity. [Base commander Col. John] Michel said the base will be home to more than 20 UAVs in a few years. The Air Force portion of the 20 will be six Global Hawks, a bigger and higher-flying version of the Predator, by early 2011. "Our manpower will be shored up by 843 people by those Global Hawks," Michel said. "The UAS is the fastest growing part of the (Air Force) business."

How's that for irony? Drones, a technology we're fast-tracking and fast-deploying in the name of replacing personnel , are becoming a jobs program. Though I guess that's consistent with the current economic meltdown and the new emphasis on finding work for people instead of the other way around.

Among other things, it raises the question: What's the future of Air Force bases? How many will fly old-fashioned manned aircraft? How many will be more like NASA's mission-control facilities? That's one of the nice things about drones: You can operate them from anywhere. Which means we should be able to create drone-operation jobs in North Dakota while flying the drones over Pakistan, Afghanistan, or India, not Canada.

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